This article first appeared at betting.betfair.com on 9th March
British politics remains completely dominated by the Conservative Party. After a decade in office, increasing their vote share with each election, they continually trounce Labour in the polls.
This may not therefore seem like an obvious time to be discussing a change of leadership. Boris Johnson has been PM for less than two years. Betfair’s market regarding the year he will leave office rates 2021 a mere 14% chance at odds of [7.6] and 57% likely to be 2024 or beyond.
Sunak red-hot favourite to succeed Johnson
Nevertheless, British politics wouldn’t feel normal, were we not discussing the race for Next Conservative Leader. This particular market’s place in betting folklore, plus their MPs’ propensity to stab sitting leaders in the back, make it an inevitable, constant source of speculation.
There is usually a firm, early favourite and the latest renewal is no exception. Rishi Sunak is the only candidate at single-figure odds, rated 28% likely at odds of [3.5]. This follows a Budget that was, initially at least, well received.
Sunak’s electoral qualities are obvious. He’s the most telegenic and articulate among senior Cabinet ministers, by far. He’s cultivated a brand that cuts across the conventional ideological divide, managing to not appear ‘political’. I base that assessment from canvassing unscientific lay opinion, at a time when millions were watching the daily Covid news conference.
Covid helped create Sunak’s unique brand
The circumstances played no small part in making him. The furlough scheme was political gold. At a time when people were likelier than ever to listen to politicians, when most Cabinet colleagues were imposing restrictions, the Chancellor was giving away free money.
That buys a lot of time and forgiveness. While the government took several blows over its Covid management, Sunak has emerged largely unscathed. Even if some of his decisions were heavily criticised – pushing to come out of lockdown earlier, Eat Out to Help Out – there’s little to suggest it cut through with voters.
All that leads many to believe he is the coming man. Somebody whom ambitious colleagues and access-seeking journalists would be advised to get behind. The new BBC Chair Richard Sharp is Sunak’s former boss, and donated 400K to the Conservative Party. A slick PR campaign is already underway. ‘Rishi’ is the new ‘Boris’.
Don’t expect a swift, or bloodless, succession
So a smooth, friendly handover of power will take place at a time of Johnson’s choosing? Dream on. No way can such predictions be made with certainty for a contest that could be several years away.